Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

2,136

Jeff Ballard: A Life In Music

Renato Wardle By

Sign in to view read count
Jeff BallardFor some jazz musicians, it seems as though they explode onto the scene virtually from the first day they pick up their instrument, and then proceed to land a huge name gig and the rest is history (or they are, after their 15 minutes). Other musicians spend a lifetime building and honing their craft. One gig leads to the next, one experience preparing them for the following one. Such is the case for master drummer Jeff Ballard.

Ballard's gigs have ranged from pianist Chick Corea, bassist Ray Brown, and composer/arranger Maria Schneider to bassists Avishai Cohen and Ben Allison, Circus Vargas and, for the past couple of years, Brad Mehldau's trio. His special brand of honed musical instincts is in demand, and for good reason. There are tours coming up with his collaborative trio Fly—featuring saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Larry Grenadier—and with Mehldau's trio featuring guitarist Pat Metheny. There's a new record from Metheny/Mehldau and a new record in the works for Fly as well.

Jeff Ballard is as busy as they come. Why? Jeff Ballard makes all the right choices, at the right moment—musical and otherwise.

All About Jazz: To begin with, where are you from?

Jeff Ballard: I was born in southern California but I grew up in Santa Cruz, California.

AAJ: The Bay Area.

JB: About half hour south from San Jose, exactly.

AAJ: What were some of your earliest musical experiences? How did music figure into your childhood?

JB: Music came into my life through my father who played some drums back when he was in the army. He has a great love of jazz, but he wasn't playing professionally or anything. It was just his having all that music around you know. He had a wide interest in music. But most of the stuff I heard through him were things like Count Basie's big band or a lot of Oscar Peterson and some Duke [Ellington]. And also some Brazilian music too. He was really into Sergio Mendes' Brasil '66 (A&M, 1966) and things like that at the time. That kind of music was always of around.

AAJ: Was there a lot of music going on in the town where you grew up?

JB: Santa Cruz, yeah it really started coming into my consciousness strongly as something I wanted to do, later on in high school. So I started taking lessons when I was, what, a sophomore in high school. So I took a year of private lessons.

AAJ: Is high school when you really got serious about playing the drums?

JB: Yeah, the seriousness turned at that point. Like making the decision whether or not to do it. I liked baseball a lot so I was playing a lot. But because of the way it was with the coach I couldn't miss any practices and I had these drum lessons once a week which were important to me too. So I actually did make that choice and say, "Well, let me go with this instead."

AAJ: That's a rough choice for a kid to make.

JB: Yeah. I think that I didn't have that strong drive of competitiveness, that kind of turned me off, that hyped-up competitive streak. I like a good game but this didn't have that to it.

AAJ: With music there is certainly more room to express your individuality.

JB: [laughs] Yeah, that's for sure.

AAJ: Even as a kid. What with the teams, the coach/drill sergeant thing, it was certainly the case with me as kid as well.

JB: Yeah, and also I felt like sometimes there was this....I don't know if it was a belittling. Like you said, this hard, regimented thing.

AAJ: They feel like they have to beat you down to build you back up.

JB: Something like that, yeah. And the band was much warmer, you know, the band room had a much warmer feeling.

AAJ: Probably smelled better too.

JB: Well, probably so yeah. [laughs]

AAJ: Well, how old were you when you got your first set of drums?

JB: Let's see. The first real set, I would say fourteen, fifteen, something like that.

AAJ: Now when you first got that set of drums, who was the first drummer that influenced you.

JB: I remember watching my dad play at the house, but Joe Morello was the first drummer that I really heard that really stuck to me. Its was from Dave Brubeck's, Time Further Out (Columbia, 1961). And there was a moment in this one cut, "Far More Drums" it's called, which was pretty much just a head and then all drum solo. And there was one moment in particular that was real strong. Joe hit the cymbal, it was an open cymbal hit and then as he choked it, he went up on and into the bell of his cymbal. So it was like the cymbal made this curve, it had this nice morphing sound to it and I thought it was really hip. So I remember that. Just getting really turned on by that. And the solo itself—all tom toms. He wasn't playing with the snares on either on that solo. It was exciting, real hip.

Plus listening to lots of Sonny Payne with Basie—that was just very exciting. And I heard a lot of Ed Thigpen too. Those are some great first impressions of drummers. Also, another record that was very cool for me was a live [vibraphonist] Terry Gibbs big band record with Mel Lewis playing drums. I would play along with all of these records. Super great.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop

Start your shopping here and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Interviews
David Crosby: A Revitalized Creativity
By Mike Jacobs
January 22, 2019
Interviews
Chuck Deardorf: Hanging On To The Groove
By Paul Rauch
January 19, 2019
Interviews
Satoko Fujii: The Kanreki Project
By Franz A. Matzner
January 9, 2019
Interviews
Ted Rosenthal: Dear Erich, A Jazz Opera
By Ken Dryden
January 7, 2019
Interviews
Jeremy Rose: on new music, collaborations and running a label
By Friedrich Kunzmann
January 6, 2019
Interviews
Ronan Skillen: Telepathic Euphoria
By Seton Hawkins
January 5, 2019